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Jazz Review

Ingenious Ad-Libs From Harris, Terrasson

December 06, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Every now and then a night comes along in which the music is so enthralling, so superbly delivered, that a reviewer can set aside critical faculties and simply marvel at the sheer magic of artistry at work. The performance by the Stefon Harris and Jacky Terrasson Quartet at the Jazz Bakery on Tuesday was one of those nights.

It's rare when two of the brightest young stars in the jazz firmament can be seen on the same stage. Even rarer when they can link together in creatively compatible musical orbits.

This, even though Harris and Terrasson are propelled by somewhat differing improvisational styles. The former tends to play his vibes and marimba in a series of explosive improvisational bursts, interspersed with floating, meditative passages. Terrasson is a virtuosic wizard, comfortable at the most brutally rapid tempos, but he balances his technical flights with lush, sometimes astonishing harmonization.

Much of the material traced to their superb recent album, "Kindred." George Gershwin's "Summertime," a highlight from the CD, was here extended into an epic series of improvisations. Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love?" received similar treatment, often generating a titanic sense of swing, even when the only instruments playing were Harris' vibes and Terrasson's piano. (And it's worth noting here that bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Terreon Gully, both of whom performed on the album, provided exquisite support throughout the set.)

Some material not included on the CD was equally compelling: a complex reevaluation of Ray Henderson's "Bye, Bye Blackbird" and a tender, understated rendering of Victor Young's "Stella by Starlight" (which included a brief, touching reference to Thad Jones' "A Child Is Born").

The result was an evening to remember. And music fans of any style are urged this week to seize the rare opportunity to hear improvisation at its finest, performed by two of the world's most gifted young musical artists.

The Stefon Harris and Jacky Terrasson Quartet at the Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City. Tonight at 8 and 9:30, $20; Friday through Sunday at 8 and 9:30 p.m., $25. (310) 271-9039.

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